As long as Trump plays ignorant, his supporters will too

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan came up with the concept of the ‘subject-supposed-to-know’, an impersonal and intangible entity which carries knowledge on our behalf. As I understand it, this relates to the conscience. When we feel morally guilty, what authority is it that knows we have done something wrong? For many, the answer is an omniscient god. Lacan’s insight is that we all in a sense believe in God whether we like it or not.

This raises two questions for me. In a heavily mediated society where even our most intimate thoughts and gestures are mediated back to us even while we think and act, could a mediating institution play such a role? Or perhaps a political tyrant, as George Orwell posited? Social media could well come to embody the two, in that so many of our experiences are thought of in terms of their value, evaluated as potential cultural capital, and also because the affordances it offers to directly repressive regimes are boundless.

The other thing that concerns me ( in fact I now see that the idea actually came from Slavoj Žižek) is what we can call the subject-supposed-not-to-know. For example, most of us have grown up in the light of terrifying facts regarding the climate which, were we to take them seriously, would compel us to transform every aspect of our lives*. Instead, we deal with the question as we do with death, pretending it’s not real and dealing with each instance of it as though it were occasional and incidental, with no implications for how we ourselves should think and act. There is clearly some sort of (as Lacan calls it) ‘Big Other’ that embodies and excuses our lack of awareness, an authority which, unlike us, is truly ignorant of the problem. Here we can see that these tools are particularly useful for understanding the role of mass and social media in our lives.

The other pressing instance of the subject-supposed-not-to-know is directly related to this: supporters of Donald Trump. In a way unerringly similar to that of a cult leader, Trump acts out their ignorance and thus allows them to continue with a kind of hysterical blindness. This is true not just of the climate, but also of his own behaviour. If we want to understand why they are so resistent to acknowledging his failings while so ready to blame others, this provides an answer. As long as he pretends that the allegations (including admissions he has himself made in the past) don’t exist, it’s as if they’re not real. He is aided in this by partisan media outlets and social media platforms which facilitate tunnel vision/amplify our blind spots and enable wilfull ignorance of that which their participants do not want to acknowledge. Trump’ s supporters embody an increasingly prevalent condition which affects us all, just in a more extreme form: they and we are effectively, as José Saramago pointed out, blind.

*The now-ubiquitous term ‘triggered’ (as in provoked) actually describes an effect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What else is this trauma which we’re so keen to avoid addressing that we displace our fear and stress onto substitute targets, eg race?

Forget the Paris Agreement. We need some new Nuremberg Trials.

Some old and ugly white people, not one of whom has any scientific credentials, all of whom despise their own children/grandchildren and none of whom possesses a soul, toast their success in ensuring the rapid elimination of the human species.

People have often laughed when I’ve argued that climate change denial should long have been treated as an imprisonable offence. You may also disagree with me; in my defence I ask you to consider what the…(people? No, that’s not the word) are celebrating in the above photo. The concerted efforts of a specific group of pseudo-scientist fraudsters and staggeringly corrupt media commentators to spread doubt, ignorance and confusion on behalf of corporate interests have ensured that if the human race is to survive more than a few decades, it will be in dire circumstances and with a vastly-reduced population. To any trolls wish to make light of that sentiment, I would point out that I am the father of an impossibly adorable nine-month-old baby and stress that I regard all of the people in the above photo as mass murderers of infinite future generations of human beings. (To anyone sent here from 4chan, I appreciate your desire to demonstrate your commitment to overturning all bastions of post-enlightenment wisdom and ridiculing liberal unease, but please go and play at defending pedophiles for the evening instead.)

I’ve sometimes been accused in the past of hyperbole when it comes to this topic, so I will make the following sentence as circumspect as I possibly can: Those who have dedicated time and energy to making action to prevent or mitigate climate change impossible are the enemies of the entire human species, guilty of plotting a genocide many times greater than those of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot multiplied together. It is no accident whatsoever that their number includes a very high proportion of holocaust deniers. (Scratch a climate liar, find a nazi. Punch a climate liar in the face and film it, I’ll send you $60 by PayPal.) Displaced repressed fear of an overheating planet is what most fuels attempts to build a post-modern fourth reich. No climate denial conspiracy, no “President” Trump. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but only if you first agree it’s a very good point. (And if you didn’t know that Climate Change may well have been a major factor in the war in Syria, it might be because, like everyone alive including me, you don’t like to read stories involving the climate. Knowing about that does help explain why those who deny climate change hate refugees, and vice versa. As I said before, it’s no accident. Find me more than one climate liar who’s not a close associate of the far-right and I’ll buy you a copy of the book ‘Why I tell lies on behalf of oil companies’ by Piers Corbyn.)

One of the only remaining means by which human beings might wake up to the scale of the emergency which is upon us would be if the facilitators of ecological breakdown were to be brought to justice as publicly as possible. There is a precedent: the infrastructure of human rights came out of the realisation of the immortal horrors that mortal human beings were capable of. The creatures responsible were quite rightly eliminated from the face of the earth. How it might come about is a mystery, but it seems to me that the scale of the betrayal of the climate lying movement justifies a similar response. We need a Nuremberg-style trial for all those guilty of lying about the causes and consequences of the changing climate. Much as I know it would delight that group of pro-diluvuan misanthropes to hear someone say this, they are quite simply the worst scum who have ever existed, and humanity cannot start to address this trauma as long as they continue to be present on our planet. Cheers.

First they abandoned the Puerto Ricans

I once tried to watch a documentary about the political status of Puerto Ricans. With all its myriad details of unincorporation vs statehood vs self-determination, it was considerably less entertaining than ‘West Side Story’. Now, for more than three million people, such issues may be a matter of life and death.

Donald Trump doesn’t know much about Puerto Rico either. He’s been told that it’s an island, and sort-of foreign and sort-of not, but he also knows that the people there can’t vote. He’d really rather just tell people things are going great and go and play golf. It doesn’t matter to him what happens to the people there. It’s an island, for Christ’s sake. Trump wouldn’t have the capacity to help even if he wanted to. He just has no intrinsic motivation to care about people who can’t do anything for him in return. (EDIT: The US has brought back Trump’s five predecessors to coordinate the reconstruction, due to the fact that the current office-holder so obviously does not give a shit.)

Trump also has no impulse control. Since he became president, he’s spent more than two months on the golf course. Although (as I wrote shortly after the inauguration) he’s the kind of leader that the US has imposed on so many other countries, it’s not so much that (as some claim) he’s following an authoritarian playbook; he’s too stupid, arrogant and lazy to read. Instead he’s an instinctive tyrant, his instincts conditioned by the crudest imaginable form of Social Darwinism. The notion that life is all about competition is a suitable ideology for someone who’d already been awarded the gold medal before they’d even drawn their first breath. This is not story he tells himself, of course. He just knows he’s entitled to go and play golf whenever he feels like it. His ideology, then, is Neoliberalism at its most basic: the market works for me, so it must work for everyone else. More competition is always good, because I’m the guy who owns all the starting pistols and the finishing tape. Now kneel before me – or, rather, stay on your feet or I’ll use the starting pistol on you.

Now, such a person has an instinctive understanding of threat posed by climate change. To people like Trump, the idea that society might – indeed, must – become more cooperative is worse than the reality that our habitat is collapsing. As Naomi Klein has cogently argued over the last few years, capitalism (particularly in its turbocharged, scorched earth variety) is simply incompatible with the continued existence of our species.

Of course, it’s easy to blame our leaders for our plight. There’s also the question of our own responsibility. We, as a ‘civilisation’, long ago collectively decided to ignore the implications. That is, after all why Trump was elected: there’s nothing less real than reality TV, so one way to escape from a frightening reality was to elect a reality TV star, someone who plays the role of a tycoon for the cameras. Facebook, Twitter have happened along, not quite by chance, at just the right moment to enable us to screen out those aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable. It’s no accident that Trump once declared that “All I know is what’s on the internet“. While Obama was the first black president, Trump is the first internet one. (Not to mention the “first white president“.)

Puerto Rico is an instructive case. It’s not like parts of Bangladesh, Houston, or Miami, i.e. part of a larger territory into which our perception of its suffering can be subsumed. It’s isolated, so presents a very stark test case of whether or not we actually give a flying fuck about our future. If we don’t respond to calls like that of the Mayor of San Juan, and not just with donations but with political action, we are truly lost. Every city on earth will face similar existential crises,often part of bigger ones, like the coming wave of crop failures. The market – the rising price of food and energy, which some are lucky to be able to afford – will only protect us so far. Its not just that our current leaders will let us starve or drown, they will actively ignore our plight just as they denied the circumstances that made it inevitable. We have to recognise that what is happening in Puerto Rico is a climate catastrophe, part of a much larger and even deadlier global transformation, and act accordingly by making sacrifices on behalf of those already suffering and by getting rid of political leaders who refuse to even acknowledge the nature of the crisis. We must build local and international solidarity networks and demand that those we elect to govern our cities develop infrastructure to withstand the inevitable. If we don’t do these things, there will be no one left to speak up for us.

Donald Trump’s an alcoholic, isn’t he.

“Let’s see…I’ve still got some of that brandy the Saudis gave me…”

Election Night 2010 left me in a Very Bad Mood. Seeing the disaster that had befallen the country, with the Conservative Party and their eventual suitors the Liberal Democrats effectively wiping Labour off the board, knowing that in government David Cameron would very soon stop pretending he would be the “greenest ever” Prime Minister/friend-to-all-the-woodland-creatures and start gleefully ripping apart all that was most precious about British life, I changed my Facebook status to the (ahem) unambiguously jestful ‘I think I might kill myself’.

I should have included a link to something related to the election. When I turned on my phone the following morning around 7am my phone was buzzing like crazy with messages from concerned friends, family and acquaintances. Not nearly as many as I might have expected, but still.

I would never have done it had I been sober. Watching the results in the pub with fellow campaigners for our local far-left candidate had been a despondent affair. I guess I must have thrown caution to the wind and probably had six or seven pints to numb the disappointment and then a whisky or two (I hate whisky) to make the short walk home slightly more fun.

I’ve cut back in the last few years on what a friend calls ‘combat drinking’. Up to a certain age getting inappropriately drunk just for the hell of it ceased to be a permanently hilarious jape and started to look and feel like the sort of lifestyle trajectory that leads to sitting in church halls reminiscing about the nights you spent searching through bins just in case they contained a not-entirely-empty can of Strongbow.

Then, of course, there’s the danger inherent in being addled online. My previous blog died a slow, painful death after I got into the bad habit of sharing my late-night weed-fuelled mental meanderings with the world (or, at least, my website’s dwindling fanbase). I suspect that it may well be the eventual fate of pretty much all blogs to end up as a receptacle for posts whose contents are so unidentifiable that even people with 18 years of solid alcoholism behind them would think twice before imbibing them*.

Thankfully I never did any permanent damage, either to my liver (apparently) or to my reputation. I’m not remotely famous, so embarrassing myself online (as I may be doing right now) has never worried me unduly. I’d imagine that if I somehow found myself in a position of global responsibility it would be helpful to take the edge off with an occasional drink, and there is always the possibility that in these panoptical times that could lead to serious trouble.

Remarkable, then, that the most powerful person in the world has never even tasted alcohol and is apparently able to deal with the stresses of the job with nary a drop of inebriating liquid to help him come down from the inevitable highs and lows of adrenaline that the job entails. Curious, as Hasan Minhaj recently pointed out, that Trump’s barely coherent and often catastrophically unwise 3am tweets are written in a state of total lifelong sobriety.

How on earth is the President of the United States able to combine his laudable dedication to a teetotal lifestyle with the pressures inherent in a) his status of leader of the free world in a time of geopolitical chaos and b) his condition as a pathological liar?



* I’m aware this is quite a confusing sentence, maybe I should have a drink and think about how to rephrase it.

NB: There’s also of course the possibility that Trump is a bit like Obelix, as in ‘Asterix &…’. Obelix fell into the pot of superstrength-granting magic potion as a child, and thus unlike his little moustachioed buddy never requires a top-up before going into battle. He does, however, need constant reminding of this fact, and given that Trump has no memory for anything but slights and grudges, it’s unlikely he’d be capable of remembering that he’s not actually supposed to drink. He may also just be a dry drunk. I don’t really care, I just hope that he gets to hear the malicious rumours that he’s an alcoholic and the resultant rage, shame and anguish cause him to suffer a massive heart attack and die. At this point we have to try everything – it’s him or the planet. Speaking of which, do you really think that someone prepared to lie about something as significant as Climate Change should be believed when he says he doesn’t drink?!

(Incidentally, no offense to actual alcoholics is intended in or by this article. Many of my closest friends are borderline alcoholics. For some reason.)

Burning denial down by the Tiber

20170207_163216I miss the days before Kindles and iPods, when you could get to know someone better by browsing through their book and music collections. Our Dutch friend Merel, at whose house we spend New Year’s Eve, has a good variety of recent fiction and books on sustainable development and the like. I’m a little taken aback to see on her shelves quite a range of books on dictators and fascism, including two by the disgraced Hitler apologist David Irving. Thankfully it turns out they belong to her landlord.

Irving is a Nazi activist who used to get away with pretending to be a historian. He was the subject of a 2016 film starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, which depicted his failed attempt in 2000 to sue the historian Deborah Lipstadt for pointing out that he had systematically distorted details about the Holocaust in his books in order to let Hitler off the hook. The judge concluded that:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

As it happens I’d come across a physical copy of one of his books before, about twenty years earlier in my local library in Dublin. I took it out and disposed of it, and then explained to the library what I’d done and why. They understood my point and once I’d agreed to pay the cost of the book they agreed not to replace it. The film about the trial of the book’s author is no classic but it sets out the main details, featuring real footage of Irving giving Nazi salutes to audiences of skinheads in Germany and Austria, where he once spent a year in prison for continuing to spread lies about the death camps. It also makes the link with other kinds of denial – one of the key lines spoken by the main character is ‘Elvis is dead. The icecaps are melting. And the Holocaust did take place’. The fact that Holocaust denial is booming online and that many of those espousing it also deny that the earth’s climate is changing is no coincidence. Hitler launched his campaign to conquer Europe in order to extend Germany’s ‘Lebensraum’, living space. In anderen Worten, he wanted to expand the Third Reich’s vegetable patch. Last week the right-wing British tabloid newspaper The Sun, owned by the climate-denying pro-Trump tycoon Rupert Murdoch, used its front page to blame Spanish people for depriving Britons of food. Inclement weather in Southern Europe has meant that there are fewer vegetables to export to British supermarkets, and The Sun wants its readers to blame foreigners rather than asking why global weather patterns are changing. As I have long argued that climate denial and racism are intimately linked, I can’t help but feel at the same time a little vindicated and also really rather scared for the future.


Once I’d explained the books’ provenance to Merel, she was more than happy for me to take them away and get rid of them. It was just a case of finding the time (my wife was heavily pregnant until last Monday :-)) and the place (we’ve only lived in Rome since last September). I decided to post a question in a friendly group for local foreigners on Facebook. Things I’ve posted there in the past on related topics have generally got a good reception, although I’d been surprised when, in response to a piece I’d written in which I called  the Italian fascist group Casapound ‘openly racist’, an Italian guy popped up and invited me to join them. My post about the books got a mixed response. Several people were consternated until I pointed out what kind of books they were, but some contributors continued to remonstrate, calling me a Nazi for wanting to burn books. Thankfully a sensible person pointed out that while the Nazis had indeed gone in for a bit of book-burning, it wasn’t by any means the worst thing they had done. A couple of people made witty but pointed reference to the fact that one of Rome’s (very best) bookshops is called ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I replied, arguing that the two items in question didn’t really deserve the hallowed status of ‘book’. I made the same point to a young Italian guy who promptly sent me a PM asking if he could have the books ‘for research’ because he was ‘interested in the topic’:


…which gives a new dimension to the phrase ‘you’d have to have been there’.

Although Irving has long been a discredited and bankrupt irrelevance in terms of serious history, both the Guardian and The Independent for some reason decided to give him a blast of publicity in the wake of the film. He claims that the election of a US President who openly consorts with Holocaust deniers (and, it should go without saying, climate liars) has revived interest in his ‘work’, with ‘thousands’ of young people contacting him to find out more about his ‘research’. He continues to use YouTube to propagate the lie that he’s a proper historian.

20160914_111306Someone in the Facebook group had suggested a far-off part of town crummy enough that few would be bothered by the sight of someone burning some books, but I didn’t really want to drag a one-week-old-baby across Rome and end up getting us both arrested for arson. Instead I thought of a largely abandoned area round the corner, next to the river, so I could get the whole thing out of the way in half an hour and not neglect my parental responsibilities. As it happens the area isn’t uninhabited; there’s a community of gypsies scattered along a stretch of the Tiber. Elsewhere on Facebook I read about the impending destruction of a similar settlement in Napoli, where my wife was born. The European Roma Rights Centre reports that:

The proposed forced eviction will render more than 340 Romani families homeless, including pregnant women, young children, and persons with disabilities. These Romani families, like most Roma in Naples, are a part of the city, having been resident there for a number of years. Despite this, the municipality of Naples has not provided them with any alternative housing.

I’m sure Irving himself would approve. Anti-gypsy racism seems particularly rife (indeed respectable) in Italy. The Telegraph reported in 2008 that a class of Italian schoolchildren had produced drawings supporting the burning of a local gypsy camp. As a novice arsonist myself I had to hope that the fire I was about to start wouldn’t burn out of control and have a similar impact. Whatever it was I wanted to achieve by burning the books, it certainly wasn’t that.

Thankfully there was a good omen. The place I settled upon also has some fitting graffiti (‘YESTERDAY PARTISANS, TODAY ANTI-FASCISTS’). As it happens, the only elected representative of the aforementioned fascist group Casapound recently dismissed the Italians who took up arms against their own fascist Government and the Nazi regime which stepped in to save it as ‘rapists’.


It would be nice to see someone like Irving as a detail of history, a footnote: there were some Nazi sympathisers who denied the holocaust, but they were ignored. But that’s not the case. Next month the French may well elect a President whose biological and political father has repeatedly described the systematic murder of millions of people as exactly that: “a detail of history”.


The reasons that some things are beyond debate is that people often lie about their interests and their ideologies. David Irving knows the Holocaust happens, he just can’t admit publicly that he thinks it was a good thing and should be repeated.


As people like to say these days, this is why we can’t have nice things. It also explains why I wanted to burn these books.


Holocaust denial and climate denial have much more in common than has been so far acknowledged. Exxon executives knew several decades ago that the company’s activities were causing the planet to overheat and would make human life impossible, but they kept quiet because admitting it could hurt their profits. They and other such companies then invested billions of dollars in spreading lies about climate science, funding people to speak up for them who are no more proper climate scientists than David Irving is a proper historian. These are the kind of trolls who would take the last six words of the last sentence and remove them from their context. If I could I would burn all attempts to deny that the climate is changing. I would set fire to millions of web pages and happily watch them go up in smoke.


By denying death, they deny life.


Afterward the well-known events took place.

Our inventions were perfected. One thing led to another,
orders were given. There were those who murdered
in their own way,
grieved in their own way.
I won’t mention names
out of consideration for the reader,
since at first the details horrify
though finally they’re a bore.
(Dan Pagis)


and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the marshall islands
and typhoon haiyan in the philippines
and floods of pakistan, algeria, and colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive

dear matefele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes, baby
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

(Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner)

If you really want to bring down Trump, snap at his Achilles heel

The science-fiction author Philip K. Dick once wrote that “sometimes the only rational response to reality is to go insane”. Some experiences and threats are just too traumatic to deal with. Hence we use a range of psychological mechanisms to protect our sense of who we are and what we are doing from breaking down. One of the main ones is denial: we simply pretend that that which troubles us doesn’t exist. However, denying what we are scared to face has consequences which may be worse than the thing itself. Repressed fears can return as outbursts of rage against undeserving targets, fetishised stand-ins for whatever it is that we are avoiding.

I believe that the core appeal of the new far-right of Trump, Le Pen, Farage and so on is that it denies on our behalf things that we can’t face, and identifies simple targets against whom our repressed fears can be expressed in the form of rage. The list of things that supporters of such individuals systematically deny includes racism, rape, historical events, news sources, slavery, the holocaust, science,  and accepted facts in relation to all of the above.

How can I state the above with such certainty? In the spirit of honesty and not denying one’s own past, I confess that for several years I was in the very bad habit of arguing with supporters of Ukip on Twitter. In a bid to use the medium as something other than an echo chamber, I sought out people with opinions different from mine and tried to engage them in debate. One thing I learned is that such a  platform is not designed for and can’t really be adapted to support meaningful political discussion. The other conclusion I was forced to accept is that denial is the central platform of parties like Ukip. It was like doing a Master’s degree in Puerility and Obtuseness Studies. Not only did I see their supporters regularly deny all the things I listed above: I was also regularly part of interactions in which the other party would deny what they had just said, refuse to acknowledge a logical fallacy in their argument, ask for evidence of my points and then refuse to engage with the evidence I provided, and turn to personal abuse when all else had failed. Part of the problem with discussing politics on the Internet in general and Twitter in particular is that the other party can just disappear: they’re not responsible for defending the statements they’ve made or the claims of the organisation they’re supporting. This exacerbated the problems I experienced in trying to reason with people whose worldview denies reason itself.

All that I’ve described is united in one specific issue, one that I think enables and then excuses all types of denial. That, of course, is the climate. If you can deny Climate Change, you can deny anything. It helps enormously (and is absolutely no coincidence) that the leaders of new far-right parties are funded directly by the Climate Denial Industry. But the ideology of denial runs deeper than mere economic self-interest. We are all to some extent if not climate deniers at least climate ignorers. As I’ve argued before, we are all complicit in the conspiracy to cover up the facts about the climate. However, as abstract facts become manifest in our daily lives, as changes to our habitat become more apparent and less deniable, the pathology of the serious climate trolls is deepening and spreading to infect all other areas of human knowledge and seriously threatening everything that we take for granted, all the rights and forms of social progress that underpin our freedom and stable way of life.

The links between, on the one hand, those in the political realm who ridicule and censor our attempts to protect our living systems and, on the other, the economic interests that jeopardise our species’ survival are also becoming more explicit and less deniable. Anyone curious about Trump’s connections to Russia and what interests lie behind them does not need to go trawling through Wikileaks documents or hope that some hitherto unseen videotape comes to light. The fact that Putin has regularly been seen in the company of the man who Trump appointed his Secretary of State is troubling in itself. That his company (ExxonMobbil) has rightly been called the greatest criminal corporation in history tells us most of what we need to know about what is going on in international politics right now. Trump’s direct financial involvement in the pipelines he himself has authorised fills in the rest of the dots.

The reason that climate change is the Achilles heel of the new far-right is that it is only possible to go on denying these things if you are part of a psychotic cult, one which is led by a psychopath and whose principle purpose, whose golden edict, is denial. If you are not part of such a cult, the available facts speak for themselves, or at least they would if they were more widely acknowledged. The reason that the things I’ve described are not more widely discussed is because they have revolutionary implications for how we live. That’s why companies like ExxonMobbil, Volkswagen, Koch Industries etc have devoted so much money and energy to making sure that ordinary people are confused by basic facts about the climate, believing that there is doubt and ambiguity where there is none. But our own experience of the world has now reached a point where it is only by direct censorship and repression that the truth and its implications can be contained.

If we truly want to address the cause of the rise of monsters like Trump and Le Pen, we all have to become climate campaigners. They are strong because we are silent about what most scares us. If we, collectively, can break that silence then we can expose them at their weakest point. That means we need to learn and share as widely as possible the true story of the climate crisis, one which starts with very basic science and develops into the deadliest and most dastardly conspiracy in human history. It also means that we have to be open with each other about something that truly terrifies us. Although activism is in itself a form of therapy in that it transforms our perspective on our own situation from a passive to a dynamic one, it isn’t enough in relation to this issue. We also need climate therapy groups, in which people can be honest about their fears. To paraphrase Thomas Pynchon, we need to keep sane, but care. And we also need to make sure that whenever anyone is worrying or ranting about the dangers that Trump, Le Pen and their ilk represent, climate change is absolutely central to the concerns being expressed.

The ideology of the emerging Trump/Putin/etc cult is based on psychotic and puerile denial of the causes and consequences of changes in our climate. The most effective way to stem its rise is to break our silence about that terrifying subject and accept our adult responsibility not to let the most evil forces on the planet destroy the lives of all of our children – including, as of three days ago, my own.

The Amtrak Trilogy Part 1: Costa Rica to New York

timthumbI yawned deeply amidst the luxury bedding of the boutique hotel on the slopes of the volcano in Costa Rica, and prepared to go back to sleep. It was 5.45am, December 21, 2012. I know the date because I just (now, in 2017) double-checked the details of my flight from San José to JFK. This is something I’d been oddly reluctant to do for the previous ten days, which my then-girlfriend now-wife and I had spent enjoying the resplendent flora, abundant fauna and disappointing food of the ‘Switzerland of Central America’*. Occasionally Chiara had reminded me to look up the time of my return journey, which was different from hers because I’d bought my ticket as a special surprise present for her birthday (er…) and the flight I’d booked was half an hour later and (inevitably) on a different plane. I knew that my flight was in the evening, as was hers to Madrid, but whenever the subject came up I didn’t happen to have my phone to hand, or was too busy looking up names of birds, or just trying hard to ignore a muffled thought I’d locked in a cupboard in my head which was saying something that sounded a bit like, Richard, your flight isn’t in the evening, it’s actually first thing in the morning. So I didn’t get round to checking until once again prompted by her on the morning of the very last day, which we had planned to spend eating a big boutique breakfast followed by a stroll to look at the innards of the big farty mountain with the hard-to-pronounce name. When I looked at the details I “gave a start”. Although I’d never consciously reflected on what that phrase means, I now know it means “to run round the room of a boutique hotel shouting fuck! Fuck! FUCK! and trying to find one’s glasses while also having a shower and packing one’s bag. And apologising. A lot.”

The friendliness of the South African couple who ran the place turned out to be able to withstand having their bedroom door banged on loudly at 5.52am, especially when it became clear that the English guy from Room 4 was too lost in panic to understand the value of money. $100 and forty-five minutes later, I was at the airport.

On the plane I had something of a epistomological crisis. What did I really ‘know’? Could I trust my own ‘knowledge’ of the world? Is our perception of reality based purely on choosing to believe that which suits us and ignore everything else? What other blindspots were there in my worldview? What did this imply about our ‘awareness’ of Climate Change? Like, if I was really as worried about global warming as I told myself I was, what was I doing on yet another plane? And what would my girlfriend’s parents and friends say when they found out how stupid I was? Could I even trust the evidence of my own eyes? The ticket before me, for example, clearly indicated a four-hour gap between my arrival at and departure from JFK. That suggested I could go to the centre of New York and walk around for a bit, right? But who was I to judge such a thing? I would need to ask another human, anyone who wasn’t me, to make the decision for me.

Once deplaned at JFK that’s what I did. I asked a nearby baggage handler to confirm that I could safely set foot in Manhattan or The Bronx or wherever and be back in time for the connection to London. I’d never been to New York before, I explained. She peered at the ticket. No, she said.

Twenty minutes later I was walking down a street in Queens. In New York! It was just like in the films, although not so much ‘Mean Streets’ or ‘Annie: The Musical’, more like ‘Frozen’, ‘My Fingers Just Fucking Fell Off’ or ‘300 Degrees Below Zero’. I reckoned I had enough time to eat some pizza pie, grab a beer in some nondescript bar, shoot dead Donald Trump and maybe track down Thomas Pynchon before heading back to the warmth of the airport.

How does one order pizza in New York? By the slice? How big are the slices? These were the questions I didn’t want to ask as I stood in line. I wanted to feel like I belonged, like a Native New Yorker, but I didn’t, like the song says you should, ‘know the score’. The guys behind the counter seemed to be Middle-Eastern,  but I could hear some proper sweary Italo-American voices coming out of the kitchen. I confidently ordered enough food to feed the entire population of San José for two months and sat down unobtrusively in the corner to peruse some sports magazines which may as well have been written in Patagonian Welsh for all that I could understand of them.

It was technically my first visit to the US but in a sense I’d been there for the previous ten days. Costa Rica sometimes felt a bit like a Disneyland version of Latin America. We’d met so many North Americans even I’d started pronouncing it Coaster Rica. The first was Darylle, whose Airbnb place we stayed at in San José upon arriving. I hadn’t known much about the country we were visiting except that it once had a President who thought it was sometimes okay to spit on people and that it didn’t have an army. (I knew those things because I’d written about them here.) Having breakfast with Darryle was like doing a Master’s in Costa Rican history, society and politics. (It was also the best meal we would have in Costa Rica.) He was an expat lawyer who, after a spell in the Peace Corps in the ’60s, had moved to San José and was very much part of life there. He also sponsored a school in Nepal along with a bewildering list of other laudable activities.

In a blues bar in Quepos we talked to and danced with exiles from Reagan’s America who’d decided to stay for good; just up the road there was a reminder that Costa Rica had been friendly to the US in more disturbing ways, another remnant of the Reagan years in the form of a plane used to transport ‘aid’ to the Contra death squads in neighbouring Nicaragua. Also in Quepos we came across the remains of a banana processing factory – Costa Rica was for almost a hundred years used as a massive banana plantation by US corporations. On the last night, in that boutique guesthouse on the volcano, we had dinner with a New York couple who talked in quiet tones with immense sensitivity and intelligence about the suffering inflicted by Hurricane Sandy and what we as a species could do to prevent it happening elsewhere. In all the personal encounters I recognised and admired that particular openness and readiness for conversation, that effusive volubility that characterises pretty much all the US citizens I’ve ever met. As I munched on my mountain of pizza pie and worried about missing my plane I had the feeling that this was a country where anyone could start to feel like they belonged.

I’d be back.


* We spent the first couple of days in Cost Ric puzzling over why there were so many Argentinians employed in the tourist industry, but then we realised that Central Americans also go in for that whole voseo thing. Another surprise came at about 4am in a hammock, when I heard this sound from what seemed like less than a metre away. Our favourite animal of the holiday, though, was the local version of the sloth, which apparently only comes down from its tree once every two weeks to take a dump. Pura vida!

Self-delusion 101: Conversation with a climate denier


There are several Facebook groups dedicated to the topic of Climate Change/Global Warming. The ones called ‘discussion’ and ‘debate’ are crawling with trolls. Some are better: I thought the one called something like ‘Air, Water, Energy, Resources’ was more serious. This is (what I remember of) a ‘conversation’ (insofar as that venerable term can be applied to online interactions) with someone who turned out to be one of the administrators of said group, who had commented on this article which I had posted a link to. I’m posting it here not out of self-aggrandisement (I’m not exactly proud of spending time online arguing about politics with people who for all I know may be only 13 years old) but because my site (this one) has now become the object of attention from climate trolls and I want to demonstrate one central delusion of their mission to disrupt efforts to save humanity: that their opinions about climate science have any validity or meaning whatsoever. The conversation no longer ‘exists’ because I left the group immediately afterwards, but I’ve tried to be honest in recalling what was said.

Thanks for what you wrote, I think a lot of it is wrong but I respect your right to say it. You’re very sure about scientific things that haven’t been proven. Anyway, do people really deny the holocaust? I don’t think so.

They do, sadly, in fact dedicated climate trolls very often moonlight as holocaust ‘revisionists’. Have a look around. And the science was settled several decades ago, as you must be aware.

That’s not true, you can’t be sure about anything. There are many different opinions. Science is never settled.

Well, it’s not a matter of opinion. Scientists conduct and repeat experiments and the results of those experiments are published and then themselves tested. It’s not guesswork. Anyway its odd that you should have chosen this particular area of science to dispute, because as it happens there’s a massive industry based on denying it, funded by the fossil fuel industry. Is that a coincidence?

I don’t care about fossil fuel companies. I’m interested in the science.

Are you yourself a climate scientist?

I have enough expertise to be a climate scientist.

I have enough expertise to fly a mission to Mars. I’m still waiting for them to call me back. Have you passed a series of exams which test your knowledge of the climate? Have you been rigorously trained in conducting experiments and interpreting their results? Has your expertise been recognised? Do you work in the field of climate science? Where can I find your work so I can see for myself?

I know a lot more than people who do.

But you’re not one. On the scale of climate scientist to internet troll, you’re way on the opposite side from climate scientist. Are you even an adult? Because it seems to me that your understanding of science is puerile.

Please be civil.

Civil? Scientists are essential to civilisation. Pretending to be one undermines the credibility of real scientists and thereby undermines civilisation. Do you pretend to be anyone else? When they say “is there a doctor on the plane?” Has anyone died as a result?

I’ve never pretended to be a doctor.

Well done. That’s really commendable. Look, I’ve just googled your name. This is what came up. You’re not a climate scientist. You may be just a schoolchild. I don’t want to be too hard on you, but get yourself another hobby. This issue is far, far too important to play these kinds of games. And I’ve got a word for you to learn: agnotology. I’ve googled it for you. It means the deliberate spreading of misinformation and uncertainty. That’s what you’re doing. Please, please stop.

This is a Climate Denial coup and we are part of it


By the time Trump had finished burbling his way through the oaf of office, all references to Climate Change had been erased from the White House website.

As I have been saying all along to anyone who would listen, this is what Trumpism is ultimately all about.

It is a coup by the corporate climate denial movement.

I predicted that this would happen:

It now looks highly probable that within our own lifetimes the problem of ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ will, in one limited sense, disappear. It seems likely to me that the Trump administration will follow the lead of Florida Governor Rick Scott, who forbade government agencies from mentioning it, and former UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson, who refused to read any document containing either phrase.

If they hadn’t gained power this way, they would have done it by means of violence.

Trump’s supporters among ordinary working and not-working people know the facts at some level – only a true psychotic could sincerely ignore the spate of floods, droughts, hurricanes, etc — but they are prevented from articulating their fears by the cover-up campaign and by the social taboo it has generated. Their repressed fears express themselves as furious denial and hatred against any easily identifiable target they are presented with.

And then there’s the rest of us. You, for example. When was the last time you had a serious conversation about the changing climate?

If we continue to avoid discussing the causes and the consequences of the changing climate with our friends, families and colleagues, we are part of the “Trump Revolution”.

In the meantime, I want to say once again to anyone who is listening: Climate Denial and Holocaust Denial are, on a moral plane, identical. Dedicated climate liars should be treated with absolute contempt. Climate denial involves dismissing – indeed facilitating – the suffering unto death of billions of human beings, principally those who are considered to be far away and different. Those who perpetuate it, whether out of personal interest or misanthropy, are involved in the planning and execution of the corporate genocide of the entire human species. And what is taking place inside the White House is the “alt-right” equivalent of the Wannsea Conference. This is the Endlösung for the climate.

It is no accident, therefore, that very many of the same individuals who insist on disrupting all and any discussion of global warming also deny the massacre of millions of people by Hitler. The 2016 film about the Nazi activist David Irving, ‘Denial’, was also, implicitly, a film about climate denial.

Hence there is no need to check on what the stances of Marine Le Pen or Frauke Petry are on environmental questions. We know. They are serving the interests of the most evil forces to have ever held sway over the future of our species.

The most painful aspect is that we are all to some extent climate deniers. We have to be, or life would be impossible.

To explain this I want to post something I wrote on the subject in August 2010. I should have found some way to shout it louder at the time, or worked harder on working harder with people who felt the same way:

Why are so many otherwise entirely rational and intelligent people so prepared to give credence to the denialists? Of course it is partly to do with the media hegemony of corporate power, but not entirely. Personally I comfort myself in the secure knowledge that I myself am prepared to ‘believe’ in the reality of what is happening and what we face, that I ‘know’ that it is happening and will continue to happen; but I’ve come to think that I may be mistaken about my own belief.

There are after all very many things we think we believe, but actually we don’t, and to ‘know’ something is not the same as, in the words of Sven Lvindquist, to understand what we know and to draw conclusions. Despite my firmly held and rationally based opinions, my own actions suggest that I am not a strong believer in the reality of climate change. I do not place much importance in recycling, for example, choosing to regard it as something of a superstitious action akin to shouting at the TV to influence the result of a football match (nobody of course would ‘believe’ for a second that doing so would have any impact, but their ‘irrational’ behaviour might make one think otherwise). My position on recycling could probably be characterised as something of a ‘beautiful soul‘ one: given that other people refuse to change, and given the immense complexities involved, I refuse to act, regarding it (entirely logically, if not rationally) as both utterly ineffective and beneath me. Nevertheless it’s one that I have until now felt entirely comfortable with.

It’s very difficult, impossible perhaps, to take a realistic and rational view of climate change. There is no level of fear or anger that is proportionate, and none of our individual actions are remotely sufficient. I have come to realise, however, that gestures are important, contrary to what I’ve always thought and contrary to what Slavoj Zizek so entertainingly argues. My actions suggest that subconsciously, like anyone else, I refuse to accept the reality of climate change. The trauma is too great to integrate into my notion of the world, the future of the world and my place in it, and so I act as if I will never be affected. But changing my habits can force me into believing at a deeper level. In Alcoholic’s Anonymous they apparently call this ‘acting as if’: first you change your behaviour, and then hopefully, gradually, your beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, about your ability to manage your life without a drink in your hand begin to change.

To slip briefly into amateur Lacanese: because the Real of climate change is impossible to apprehend, we have to act within the realm of the symbolic. Symbolic tokens in the form of gestures do have a value; they can be exchanged for genuine belief. Not just recycling but skills shares and community gardens are important, as are all other forms of exchange not based purely on exploitation. Staying out of supermarkets is a good move for all sorts of reasons.

Nowadays, again like anyone else, we consume constantly, indiscriminately, or ironically, consuming our own gestures of consumption. This is the age of McDonalds happy meals consumed in a constant low-level muzak hum of cynicism, apathy and despair, flat screen Tvs gorged down in the midst of a recession. We consume because we are: what else are we, what else are we to do?

There is of course no substitute for collective political action, for maximum anger gathered and launched at those in power who notice our failure to genuinely believe and so pretend to act, understanding that for us, for now, pretending to act is enough. But it can serve to help us accept the anger and fear that climate change generates, to live with it and try to live differently.

I think I believe in the reality of climate change. But the fact that I fail for the moment to begin to live differently shows that I do not, yet. I first have to change the way I live my life.

Welcome back to 2016. We are now governed by a regime of climate trolls. Such creatures are, whether they like it or no, mouthpieces for the fossil fuel industry. In ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ Pynchon writes:

Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata – epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city.

I don’t know what will now happen to the squads of trolls that have been mobilised. They can no longer pretend to themselves that there’s anything other than doglike obedience to corporate power motivating their actions. Some will continue to fight online battles, too stupid and/or rabid to realise that they’ve won. Their owners will probably give them another scented rag to chase down. Vigilante gangs may be formed offline in addition to online in order to help police dissent. In the meantime this blog will soon go much quieter, as I will have a bigger priority: our first child (thankfully a daughter). We have to protect and sustain life in the face of forces which represent nothing but death.

18 questions for climate deniers

  1. Do you accept the science of how babies are created?

  2. Do you accept the science of how ice is formed?

  3. Do you accept the science of how the earth goes in circles?

  4. Do you accept the science of where eggs come from?

  5. Do you accept the science of how water is heated?

  6. Do you accept the science of how light bulbs work?

  7. Do you accept the science of how planes stay airborne?

  8. Do you accept the science of how rainclouds form?

  9. Do you accept the science of how rubber ducks float?

  10. Do you accept the science of how sand becomes glass?

  11. Do you accept the science of night and day?

  12. Do you accept the science of the warming planet?

  13. Do you accept the science of how we evolved?

  14. Do you accept the science of how vaccines function?

  15. Do you accept the science of how greenhouses work?

  16. Do you accept the science of how flowers can grow?

  17. Do you accept the science of how birds and bees combine?

  18. Do you accept the science of how your car starts to move?

If your answer to any of those questions is ‘no’, get educated. You might find this site helpful.